Last month, even as the coronavirus epidemic was ravaging China and making inroads in other nations, the space industry’s concerns were elsewhere. There were debates about a NASA authorization bill in the House that would reshape NASA’s Artemis program even as the agency sought more money for it, the ongoing review into the flawed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle, renewed concerns about orbital debris after a close call between two defunct satellites, and discussions about the viability and sustainability of satellite constellations like OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink as both moved into full-scale deployment.
Those were the days. In the last couple of weeks, and especially in the last week, those issues have largely disappeared as what is now a pandemic takes hold in the United States and many other nations. But while many parts of the economy have ground to a halt, like retail and tourism, the effects on the space industry have been uneven. Some parts of it have also effectively halted, yet others continue ahead at essentially full speed—at least for now.
The first clear signs of the effects of the pandemic on the industry was bringing the circuit of conferences and other events to a standstill. On March 9, the Satellite 2020 conference got underway in Washington despite growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, including the first cases diagnosed in the city. Conference organizers plowed ahead even as some major companies, like satellite operator SES, bowed out, saying only about 10 percent of attendees as 12 percent of exhibitors had cancelled their plans.